Friday, July 8, 2005

Among many feats and accomplishments during an eclectic career that spans more than 30 years, Washington Nationals television voice Mel Proctor acted on “Hawaii Five-O” and “Homicide,” dressed up his son to resemble his broadcast partner and got married in a sports bar. He survived working for Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, and he currently is describing the biggest story in baseball.

Yet the first thing an NPR reporter who was following Proctor around the other day asked about was the cell phone thing.

For once, he had nothing to say.

Earlier in the season, Proctor thought he’d have a little fun on the air, which is not unusual for him.

“If I’m having fun and my partner is having fun, the people watching are having fun,” he said. So during a dress rehearsal broadcast in April, Proctor wondered aloud if anyone was watching and gave out his cell phone number.

This was when MASN, 90 percent of which is owned by the Angelos and the Orioles, was putting together its broadcast package. Executives there were not amused and let Proctor know it. Proctor will talk about virtually anything but this, saying he was told to refer all questions to Bob Whitelaw, executive vice president and general manager of MASN.

Whitelaw’s response was to reiterate that Proctor’s comments were made during a dress rehearsal. As for Proctor’s work, he said, “I think Mel’s done a fine job under the circumstances of all of us quickly getting together [Proctor was hired three days before the Nationals’ opener]. It’s evolving very nicely.”

Still, the protracted dispute between the Orioles, i.e. Angelos, and cable provider Comcast has left most Washington baseball fans with limited exposure to the Nationals. That — combined with Washingtonians’ long-standing antipathy toward Angelos, who continually tried to keep baseball out of D.C. — reeks of irony for Proctor.

Many fans blame Angelos for the paucity of Nationals coverage. But Proctor was the popular TV voice of the Orioles from 1984 to 1996, and he has no beef with the team or the owner. Some have found Angelos to be a difficult person to work for — among those he drove out of town was the esteemed broadcaster, Jon Miller — but not Proctor.

“Angelos and I got along great,” he said. “A lot of people were afraid of him. I don’t know why. We just got along. … I did Orioles games all those years [including after Angelos bought the team in 1993], and I still have a lot of friends in the organization.”

That, however, didn’t stop Proctor from noting on the air how the Nationals were outdrawing the Orioles. This also did not sit well with the folks at MASN, said Proctor, who added, “I’m working here now. This is where my allegiance is.”

Although the role of play-by-play man usually calls for a more straightforward approach than that of an analyst, Proctor, who owns more than 160 baseball-themed ties (one for each game), deviates from the script. He does impersonations of Richard Nixon and Harry Caray. An at-bat by Nationals outfielder Marlon Byrd provokes Proctor into listing an all-animal team (Kevin Bass, Steve Trout, etc.). He cracks up his partner, Ron Darling, with a running gag based on the old commercial line, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

Proctor has never played a doctor, but he did play a tour guide on an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” when he worked in the islands. It also was in Hawaii that Proctor married his wife, Julie. The wedding took place in a bar where Proctor, the voice of the minor league Hawaii Islanders, did a sports show, and they played the national anthem.

“It had a baseball motif,” he said.

That wasn’t all. The wedding cake was made of corned-beef hash because that was a breakfast specialty of the restaurant. Proctor said hundreds of people jammed the place because a radio co-worker falsely advertised that Muhammad Ali would show up. And, according to Proctor, “A doctor who was stopped for malpractice did the blood tests, and the guy who did the ceremony was a judge who had been disbarred.”

Before the wedding, Proctor had to work, spinning a re-creation as he often did when the Islanders played on the mainland.

“Hey, folks, you’re listening to the fastest game in history,” he said on the air. From that point, every hitter sprinted to the plate and swung at the first pitch. “We knocked it out about an hour,” he said.

In his last Islanders game, Proctor decided to augment the usual sound effects. He had bombs going off, lions roaring, fire engines wailing.

Proctor left Hawaii to do Washington Bullets games. He joined the New Jersey Nets for a couple of seasons, then returned when Home Team Sports started up and called the Bullets for as long as he did the Orioles. Then he moved to San Diego and worked Padres games. Before returning here, on short notice and without an interview, he broadcast Los Angeles Clippers games.

Proctor, 52, remains closely identified with Baltimore. He believes the good relationship he had with Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who managed the Orioles and worked in their front office when Proctor was there, helped him get back here.

Proctor and Orioles partner John Lowenstein, the somewhat kooky ex-player, had a special chemistry. Viewers didn’t know what either would say next. Proctor once dressed up his 6-year old son, Billy, to look like Lowenstein, complete with mustache, and had him lip-synch Lowenstein’s voice.

On a telecast, Proctor noted how great it would be if Barry Levinson, the film director and Baltimore native who watched Orioles games on his satellite dish, visited the press box. Levinson, who was in town, heard of the remark and dropped by. Not long after, Proctor landed a small part in Levinson’s TV show, “Homicide,” as a newspaper reporter.

Proctor also had bit parts in the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” the miniseries “JFK” and the film “D.C. Cab,” in which he played a cop. Proctor got so hooked on a popular 1960s show that he ended up writing a book called “A Viewer’s Guide to ‘The Fugitive.’”

He has had a plethora of partners, including Joe Namath and Paul Hornung when he did network college football. Hornung, the former Green Bay Packers star who was suspended a year for betting on games, suggested the team be called “Proctor and Gamble.” Fox’s James Brown and ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe (a former pitcher who won the first game at Camden Yards for the Orioles in 1992) worked with Proctor during their formative TV years.

“Mel was absolutely wonderful for someone breaking into the business,” Brown said. “He was as well-grounded and as solid a professional as he is now.”

Darling, the former New York Mets pitcher who is basically a broadcasting novice, said he could not have found a better mentor.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” Darling said. “He just wants to get it right, and part of getting it right is making sure, if your partner’s not as experienced as you are, to get him up to speed as quickly as you can.”

Proctor and Darling — and a lot of other people connected with the Nationals — don’t know if they will be back next season after an owner buys the club from Major League Baseball. Proctor can only hope he gets to stick around.

“It’s like I was meant to be here,” he said. “Honest to gosh, that’s the way it feels. I love the West Coast, but I appreciate Washington more than I ever did. It’s very strange. You take a job for whatever reason, but this is like, ‘Hey, this is where I’m supposed to be.’”

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